Tuesday, March 12, 2019

The "own goal-ing" of Moscow

I've been pondering the shorter term effects of Moscow (and her dependents - MP parishes in the "diaspora" and ROCOR) suspending communion with the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Not the "What will this mean in 10 years" sort of question, but the "What does this mean today" variety. When the Russian Church ordered all of her people to suspend having anything to do with the EP the effect in the US was that no one will see them at any pan-Orthodox events, as a signee of any pan-Orthodox statements, or on any stage with other hierarchs speaking to current affairs. Anywhere a Greek or Ukrainian or Carpatho-Rusyn or Albanian or Palestinian clergyman might be present, a ROCOR clergyman isn't going to show up. Simple numbers tell you that in any inter-jurisdictional event a Greek priest is going to be there. So what does that mean for the average layperson not in ROCOR/MP? They aren't going to hear the often more conservative and traditionalist opinion. They aren't going to hear about, much less see, the other side of the coin on important issues. They aren't even going to SEE any Russians until this is resolved. So, in an effort to bring the EP to reason, they have isolated themselves.

I served at a Greek parish some months back and had this exchange.

γιαγιά: "Father, where do you normally serve?"

Me: "At the parish about an hour north of here, but actually last week I served at the Russian parish when the priest had to go out of town."

γιαγιά: "What? I didn't even know there was another Orthodox parish here!"

Me: "[pause] It's literally just a few blocks away."

γιαγιά: "Interesting! Can I get another piece of antidoron? My husband went to get the car..."

If anything this suspension of communion has made the Russian position LESS visible to the average person and not more. This is lamentable because Moscow has very real things to say to all of Orthodoxy. Outside of Orthodox news websites and very long patriarchate to patriarchate letters things are continuing as if nothing has happened and the narrative is being written by the only voices still permitted to be in attendance.

It seems you can do more from the inside of an organization than from the outside. I worry that the lesson the EP will learn is not the value of conciliarity, but of her own ability to do things unilaterally with negligible ill effects.


  1. Interesting post Josephus! The great big, fat, it fill's_the_horizon, so obvious how could any body miss it on the other hand is "what communion does light have with darkness"? I don't mean this in a dogmatic way, but purely in the way you mean it: on a pragmatic, speak to the people (both in the Church and outside of her) level.

    What has the experience of the collective institutional collapse of the entire western church (on both Protestant & RC side) into secularism and a yet-another compromised with the culture voice over the last 500 years taught us? How is that "working from the inside the organization" thing working out for your average faithful Anglican for example?

    It's like you say, "it seems you can do more...". Right, it seems that way, but it is not really that way? It is this "work from within" mindset that is often part of the very problem. As Saint Clive Staples Lewis said in several different ways/places, being 'in the inside' is one of the real temptations of being a Christian - it is a direct contradiction to the Prophetic voice and Spirit of each individual and the whole tenor of the New Testament itself.

    It's also why if/when a bishop (and it will be a bishop under the EP most likely) ordains the first honest to goodness "female deacon" all this talk among the clergy about not taking it lying down is just talk - the vast majority of the clergy will convince themselves it's possible to "do more from inside the organization"...

    1. Who is darkness? Are you saying the millions of people in the EP are darkness? If not, who is this hurting? Certainly not the EP.

      "it seems you can do more..." - let me be more emphatic: If 13 groups get together to talk and one group is never there to speak, who is listening to it? You can take your ball and go home, but everyone is still outside playing and you're at home eating pop tarts.

      Female deacon - EXACTLY why we need Moscow still in the mix. To be a voice of reason at the table. Not throwing paper airplanes through a window.

    2. In this context the darkness is not a who but a what/how. The question is not who should be talking to whom (e.g. the EP and MP, and together to the culture) but the how. What are the terms, the boundaries, and grounding of the dialogue? How does an individual, or an ecclisia talk to each other and the culture without compromising with sin on the inside (i.e. the Church) and outside (the culture, "the world" in NT terms)? Difficult and complex questions. The hard truth is that the "it's better to work from within" reasoning has sometimes been used to justify all manner of compromises. Just as your exchange with the babooshka shows, unity for unities sake usually does not work out. "They" (both in and outside the Church) are not listening anyways. It's just as Fr. Schmemann said all toughs years ago - to be Christian in this secularized culture looks scandalously ("dangerously" is the word he used) non-conformal, non-compromising, and I would say non-unifying.

      I have my problems with the MP's actions and words in this whole affair, but maintaining unity and appearances for the supposed need to speak with one voice to the secularizing culture within the Church (which is far greater than most want to admit and getting worse everyday) and the secular culture without is not one of them. Sometimes, the right reaction is to not pretend you have communion - communication - when you in fact do not...

      On the female deacon: folks who want this reform are not going to be *talked* out of it, anymore than I am going to be talked out of "Christ is Risen". Maintaining a compromised unity with the hope to convince those with designs on the female deacon is a vanity...

  2. Worrying about the PR effect of something seems trifling and perhaps secular when we consider the awesome power of God Who can achieve all things. When people are speaking the truth/Truth in love/Love, their absence can be a witness. How often have the Fathers, Saints, etc followed their consciences on a path alone, without care for what “people” think? How often have the Fathers said one must separate from a path which does not seem wise, right, godly to the conscience? God is in charge of what results in all ways. I perceive sorrow in their separation, that it was not a step MP wanted to take, just as we human beings have to take unwanted steps back depending on the willingness of the other to join us on a fruitful path. I pray as most I know do for the true healing of the EP in his spirit and for the true healing of the Church through the proper canonical means of achieving both.

    1. I don't know to what PR effect you are referring. My concern is that the people are the Church. Hierarchs certainly guide us, but if we divide millions apart from millions for events that have no bearing on them I don't know what it merits them.

  3. Father, forgive me for differing with you and writing harshly. The Canons of the Church and the Tradition of decision-making and the wisdom of the Fathers, how can honoring these take us in the wrong direction? The pillars of the Orthodox Church guide us and if they are not honored and preserved, if they are watered down, don’t we see where this leads? The history of the Church is replete with incidences of needed correctives and God administers them and preserves His Truth and His faithful. I keep reading Fathers who say we must speak rather than stay silent, but I apologize for not just writing you individually to differ. Thank you in Christ for this blog.

  4. I was scandalized to the core by the actions of the EP. The tragedy that he caused has resulted in more persecutions of clergy and faithful. Churches are being confiscated and the Ukrainian KGB are helping the schismatics. I believe that the ROC had no choice but to break communion. I also believe that a pan-Orthodox council should be held immediately and every Local Church should break communion with Constantinople. I believe the EP has been falling into heresy for the past 100 years or so. Many Churches have expressed their opposition to the EP's power grab,but words are not enough. Lack of action on the part of the other Churches is tantamount to hiding your head in the sand. This cannot be ignored. How does it affect me? I will not attend a Liturgy at any Local Church where I know the celebrant supports the actions of Constantinople. This includes most Greek parishes (but excludes Elder Ephraim's Monasteries). If the Other Local Churches continue to kick the can down the road and do nothing, I will travel the long distance to attend a ROCOR Church (or move if I have to). That is how strongly I feel about the situation.

  5. The MP isn't really out of Communion with the EP. Not fully. On paper? Sure. In reality? "It's complicated."

    I think when the MP Synod made this decision, the practical and pastoral implications of this were not fully realized. As time went on, and the reports from the Diaspora come in, the MP has realized their mistake. They can't undo the break in Communion, but they are walking it back quietly in certain corners (particularly when it comes to Mt. Athos). This is where you see the "blessings" given by MP/ROCOR Bishops to receive Communion in certain Athonite Monasteries or anywhere else they deem "OK." These places commemorate HAH but they have the "right opinion" on Ukraine, so they are allowed "by Economy." This makes absolutely no sense whatsoever (can a blessing be given to commune in a "schismatic" church by economy?) but it is happening.

    That is why I personally see it as just a particularly nasty iteration of the autocephaly drama, played out over the centuries. It is particularly ugly this time because it strikes at the heart of "Holy Rus" and the Moscow Patriarchate will fight tooth and nail to prevent it from happening. Our bishops will sort it out in the end.

  6. Maybe the MP feels a quarantine of sorts is necessary? I will always remember Met. Philip of blessed memory pulling we Antiochians out of the NCC.

    Too soon, too late? Cutting off one's nose to spite one's face? That is the question.

    One thing I learned from Met. Philip is that my opinions did not matter. Another thing I learned is that I would make a terrible Bishop. God is merciful to us all.